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Morton Rutherford was not the only one who had observed the expression on Maverick’s face. To Lyle it seemed she had never seen such venomous malignity as was in the look which he gave her. Stepping into the dining room a few moments after Morton had left, she heard imprecations and curses mingled with her own name and that of Mr. Cameron, and realized at once that their secret was known; then, as he hastily left the house, she heard a few words of bitter hatred which would have no special meaning to his wife, but which Lyle, knowing what Houston and his friends had been anticipating for the last few days, readily understood.
The wind was now raging down the canyon with terrific force, but Lyle had but one thought, to warn those whom she loved and save them from danger. Catching up a light wrap which she threw about her shoulders, she rushed out of the house, passing Miss Gladden and Ned, who were in the porch watching the storm, and who tried to detain her.
“Lyle, what is the matter? Where are you going?” they cried.
“To the mines!” Lyle answered, raising her voice above the roar of the storm; “They are going to fire the mines, and they are all there, Morton and Everard and Jack. I must warn them if I can!”
“Lyle, come back!” shouted Ned, “let me go!”
She shook her head; “I must go, I know the mines,” she cried, and turning ran down the road, battling with the terrific wind, and was out of sight, almost before they realized what had happened.
Meanwhile, Morton Rutherford had found Houston without difficulty. “They are coming, Everard,” he announced, in a low tone, “they will be here to-night. What are the indications here?”
“I judge from Haight’s manner, that word of some kind has been received from headquarters, but just what is to be done, or whether there is any immediate danger, I cannot yet tell.”
“I am going over to Haight’s office for a few moments,” said Rutherford, “I may catch some message from the company that will show us the situation.”
“Just what I was intending to suggest,” said Houston.
“You will remain here until I come back?”
“Yes, unless I should detect some certain signs of danger; in that case I shall warn the men, and shall start for tunnel No. 3, that part of the mine will be safe for a while, in any event.”
“Very well, you will probably hear from me within twenty or thirty minutes,” and Rutherford started for the mills.
Haight, on returning to the office from dinner, waited some little time for the expected dispatch. At last it came:
“Cameron just arrived with Englishman, Lindlay, and attorney; going out to the mines on evening train. Are at Arlington Hotel, Van Dorn at same hotel and in telegraphic communication with some one at the Y. There is a conspiracy somewhere; what do you know? Answer at once; is everything ready?”
He was still studying the contents of the telegram, wondering just what the conspiracy might mean, when Minty slyly entered, and by means of the information she had secured, furnished him the needed key to the situation. In a few moments the following answer was returned:
“The truth is out; have just discovered Houston is Cameron’s nephew, out here in his interests; Van Dorn et al. working with him. Cameron coming out to-night for the grand coup. Everything is ready awaiting your orders.”
Just as the message was sent, Maverick passed on his way to his post, and seeing him, Haight stepped to the door and called him:
“I say, Jim, I’ve learned the truth at last about that superintendent of ours, damn him! You seemed so interested in old Cameron this morning, I thought you’d like to know that it has turned out that this Houston is his nephew.”
“Houston, old man Cameron’s nephew!” gasped Maverick, with a terrible oath, and growing fairly livid, “How’d ye get onto that?”
“No matter how, Jim, but it seems he’s been out here all summer getting onto some of our little business ways and reporting to the old man, and now he’s got the old fellow out here to see the fun. Never mind, Jim, I guess the fun will be on the other side after all. I’ll attend to my business and you’ll attend to yours, but I thought you’d go at it with a better relish after this little piece of news.”
Maverick passed on his way, regardless of the storm, incapable of coherent speech, muttering oaths and curses intermingled with the vilest epithets, Haight watching him with a grim smile for a few moments. Then going back to his office, he had but just reseated himself at his desk, when Morton Rutherford entered the outer room. “Damn him! what is he sneaking around here for?” Haight soliloquized, at the same time hastily transferring a revolver from his desk to his pocket, “I’ll spoil that mug of his if he attempts any funny business here.”
This movement was seen by Rutherford, who was watching him closely, but he appeared to take no notice of it and entered the office as usual, with a civil greeting to Haight. The latter sprang to his feet, taking his position close by the shaded window, his right hand grasping the revolver in his pocket.
Rutherford’s lips curled with scorn and contempt as he looked at Haight; he saw there could be no semblance of civility between them, it was to be open war.
“You are a coward!” he said.
“And you are a sneak,” Haight hissed in reply, “prying around here when you had better be minding your own business.”
“Let me tell you that I am attending to my own business, and you will find before you are much older, that I have more right here than you.”
For a moment Haight hesitated, astonished by Rutherford’s words and manner, then was about to make some reply, when the click of the instrument attracted his attention. Keeping his eye on Rutherford, he gave the answering signal with his left hand, then listened intently for the message. It came, containing the final orders and the farewell words of the Silver City office:
“Send the mines to hell, and Houston and his crowd with them. Look out for yourself. Good-bye.”
In his interest in the message, Haight seemed, for an instant, to have partially forgotten Rutherford’s presence, his eyes dropped toward the instrument, and in that instant, Rutherford cleared the space between them at a bound, gripping Haight firmly with one hand, while with the other he knocked the revolver which Haight had hastily drawn, half way across the room. With a single blow he knocked Haight to the floor, partially stunning him, but as he regained his senses, he rolled over towards the window, and with a strength born of desperation, struggled to his knees, and before Rutherford realized what he was trying to do, the shade flew upward to the top of the window. Even then, Rutherford would have thought little of it, had not Haight betrayed himself by a leer of fiendish triumph. In an instant Rutherford understood that it had been some pre-arranged signal.
“You cowardly villain!” he exclaimed, and pausing only long enough to give him a blow which left him unconscious on the floor, he rushed forth into the darkness and fury of the storm, in the direction of the mines.
As he did so, he stumbled against a small boy, running even more swiftly in the same direction.
“Mister, Mister Houston! is that you?” rang out Bull-dog’s voice, above the storm.
“No, my boy, I am going to find Mr. Houston, to save him if I can.”
“Oh, sir, let me go! I know about it, they’re goin’ to fire the mines, I heerd Jake say so, and I was a goin’ to find Mister Houston myself; I’ll get there quicker, ’n I know the mine better ’n you.”
“But, my boy, you risk your own life,” said Rutherford.
“Never mind that, sir; Mister Houston, he’s been my friend, ’n his life’s worth more’n mine anyhow; I’ll risk it,” and he was already rushing on ahead, shouting back to Rutherford, “You go to the tunnels, sir, you can help him there.”
“Tell him the signal has been given!” called Rutherford, and Bull-dog, swinging his ragged hat in reply, sped swiftly on through the raging wind.
Rutherford paused for a moment, then started in the direction of the tunnels. At that instant, Lyle, still struggling against the fury of the wind, had just reached the ground surrounding the mines; in a few seconds more she would have been within the fatal boundary line, but Bull-dog’s voice, as he rushed past, warned her back.
“Go back, go back, Miss Lyle! they’ve given the signal to fire the mines, I’m goin’ to warn ’em; don’t be afraid, I’ll save ’em, Mister Houston and Jack,” and with these words, he rushed on, disappearing through the incline shaft.
Lyle retreated a few steps, and then paused, looking wildly about her, dreading, expecting, she scarcely knew what.
Suddenly the darkness seemed divided by a blinding flash, which spread into a sheet of flame, enveloping her within its lurid folds, while peal after peal of deafening thunder crashed and roared about her, and the lightning flashed and gleamed till it seemed as if earth and sky were commingled in one mass of flaming combat.
Scarcely had the blinding flashes died in darkness, and the reverberations of the thunder still echoed and re-echoed among the surrounding mountains, when the earth began to rock and vibrate beneath her feet; there was the sound of a terrific explosion, she felt for an instant a strange sensation as if floating through the air,––then she knew nothing more; she had been thrown to the ground, unconscious, by the shock.
Meanwhile, down the rough, narrow road, leading to the mines, Leslie Gladden and Ned Rutherford were making their way, having started immediately after Lyle, but unaccustomed to the furious mountain storms and unfamiliar with the road, they made slow progress in the darkness and tempest.
“Miss Gladden, this is too hard for you,” said Ned, as they paused once, gasping for breath, “I don’t believe it is safe either, you ought never to have come.”
“What do I care for difficulty or danger?” she replied, “Think of Lyle going through this storm alone; I only pray she may not have been too late!”
Scarcely had she finished speaking, when, without an instant’s warning, the timber through which they were passing suddenly seemed one mass of blinding flame, while almost simultaneously came the deafening crash of the thunder.
“Great Heavens! that must have struck awfully near us!” exclaimed Ned, but no cry escaped from Leslie’s lips, as, shuddering, she clasped his arm more closely and struggled bravely on.
It was not until a few seconds later, when there came the sound of the terrible explosion, followed by the bursting and crashing of the rocks, while the ground quivered and trembled as though shaken by an earthquake, that, for an instant, her courage failed, and with a low cry, she sank to the ground, shivering with horror. But only for an instant, and then she rose to her feet, dizzy and trembling from the shock, but brave and determined as ever.
“Come,” she said hoarsely, “we must hasten; perhaps we can help them in some way, even if we are too late to save them.”
Speechless from a horrible, sickening realization of all which that terrible shock might mean to those whom they were striving to save, Ned silently helped her forward. They had gone but a few steps, when there suddenly burst upon the dark and stormy heavens a dull, red glare, which grew brighter moment by moment, and on emerging from the timber into the open ground, a frightful scene met their gaze.
Dense clouds of smoke were pouring from the shafts of the nearest mine, while, at a little distance, could be seen the mills, their whole interior already ablaze with light. In that end of the buildings containing the sorting rooms and Haight’s office, the fire was raging, having come in contact with quantities of chemicals which had increased its fury.
“Great Cæsar!” ejaculated Ned, “the mills were struck, and are on fire.”
But Leslie uttered a sharp cry, and ran swiftly down the path to where Lyle lay unconscious, followed quickly by Ned.
“Poor child, poor child!” she moaned, “oh, merciful heaven, she came too late, and they are all lost!”
Then, as she knelt beside the unconscious form, there came another terrific explosion, which seemed to jar even the rocks about them to their very foundations, while from the already smoking shafts, the flames now issued, towering higher and higher, and adding new terror to the scene.
Men were seen running from all directions, from the distant groups of mines, rushing to the burning mills, where the little fire corps belonging to the camp, were already engaged in a futile battle with the flames; but around the Yankee Boy mine there was no sign of life.
The rain now began to descend in torrents, and the first dash of the storm seemed to revive Lyle, whom Leslie and Ned had raised to a sitting posture in their efforts to restore her to consciousness. Slowly she opened her eyes with a bewildered look, then springing to her feet, still weak and trembling, but resolute and determined, she gazed about her at the flaming shafts and burning mills, and suddenly cried,
“Oh, I can remember now! I remember it all, it has come back to me,––the terrible wreck, the burning cars all around us, and my mother crushed in the wreck; then the people carried us out and they put me down beside her, lying so white and still, and then,––then that villain came and took me away,––I can see it all,” and she shuddered.
Then looking at Leslie and Ned, who were watching her with startled faces, she seemed trying to recall the present situation. Before either of them could speak, however, there came the report of another explosion, more distant and deeper underground than any that had yet occurred, and the sound seemed to bring back to Lyle the memory of her last moments of consciousness before the first terrible shock, while the faces of her companions were blanched with terror.
“I know now,” she exclaimed quickly, “I was too late, but Bull-dog warned them, and they are probably safe; we must go to the tunnels, they will make their escape there, and we may help them.”
She ran swiftly down the path leading the way, while they followed only too gladly, their hearts filled with new hope.
The men, finding it impossible to check the flames at the mills, were flocking in the direction of the Yankee group of mines. Fearing, however, to approach very near the scene of danger, they gathered in groups here and there, while a company of wretched women, the wives and daughters of the few married men who worked in the fated mines, ran hither and thither, sobbing and wringing their hands in their agony of fear and suspense for their own loved ones. Seeing Lyle leading the way to the tunnels, they all, men and women, followed in the same direction.
The fury of the storm had passed; a heavy rain was still falling, but the wind had subsided, and the clouds had lifted and were already breaking away.
Arriving at the tunnels, they found a crowd of men, among them a number who had made their escape from the mines. The hearts of Ned Rutherford and Lyle throbbed with joy as they descried Morton standing among the crowd, but Lyle’s heart sank again with sickening dread as she saw no signs of Everard Houston or of Jack, while Leslie Gladden moaned in despair. Morton Rutherford was unhurt, except for a few bruises from flying rocks, and he was pleading with some of the men, and offering large sums of money to any one or two who would go with him into the tunnel in search of Houston and some of the missing men.
“Mr. Houston told me that this part of the mine would be safe for some time,” he shouted, “and I will pay a thousand dollars to any one who will go with me as guide.”
For a moment no one responded, then one of the men who had escaped, spoke,
“No sir, I wouldn’t go back in that there mine for five thousand dollars, I’m out, an’ I stays out,” while another added, “’Twouldn’t be of no use, sir; mos’ likely he was catched in some o’ them cave-ins; he stopped to give us all warnin’ an’ he was about the last one to start.”
“Cowards!” exclaimed Lyle, stepping forth among them with blazing eyes, “he risked his life to save yours, and you will not even try to save him. Morton,” she added, turning toward her lover, “I know every step of the tunnels, and I will go with you.”
The men slunk back like whipped curs, but made no response. The miners employed by the company throughout this group of mines were of the lowest class, and they were none too friendly to Houston, while the better class of men employed in the other mines were not familiar with these workings.
Morton Rutherford advanced to meet Lyle; “My darling,” he said, in low tones, “I cannot allow you to subject yourself to danger.”
“I would rather share the danger with you,” she replied proudly, “besides we must save them.”
“I will go, too,” said Ned eagerly, “I surely can help.”
Lyle was about to suggest that he remain with Miss Gladden, but Leslie herself interposed.
“No, no, I do not need him,” she said earnestly, “I would suffer no more waiting alone, and he may do much good.”
At that instant, two young men from another group of mines stepped forward; “If you please, sir,” said one of them, “we don’t want no money, and we can’t act as guides, not being acquainted with the lay of things around here, but we’d like to help you, for we like Mr. Houston, and we’re his friends.”
Their offer was gladly accepted, and preparations were hastily and silently made by the little party. Wet cloths and sponges were fastened across the lower portion of their faces, to prevent their inhaling the smoke and gases, while ropes were securely tied about their waists, the ends of which were to be held by persons on the outside. A frequent jerking of the rope would assure those outside that all was right in the tunnel, but a suspension of the jerking would indicate that that person had been overcome by the gases, and he would be immediately drawn out to the fresh air, by those at the outer end of the line.
Pausing only for a bright smile of encouragement to Leslie, Lyle led the way into the tunnel, followed by Morton and Ned, the two miners bringing up the rear, and all disappeared in the subterranean darkness.
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